Sacrifice — a review

Nancy Drew, eat yer heart out....

Nancy Drew, eat yer heart out….

One of my favorite actresses, Radha Mitchell, stars here as Tora Hamilton, a prominent New York City doctor who moves to a tiny island off the Scottish coast with her husband so they can adopt a baby. Thanks to the local laws, they have to live on the island for twelve months before they can adopt. When one of their horses drops dead on their property, Tora uses a backhoe to dig a grave for it. But it turns out the grave is already in use. Tora discovers a human body has already been buried in the peat bog. It’s the body of a young woman who has been savagely killed in what appears to be a ritualistic ceremony.

After she calls in the local cops, they reassure Tora that this body is probably several hundred years old, despite it still looking fresh. The peat bog has a way of preserving bodies buried within it for centuries. However, Tora uncovers evidence that shows that not only was this woman killed more recently, like two or three years ago, but that she might have been a woman who had gone missing on the island. But the fact that she was slaughtered just a few years ago raises the unsettling notion that somebody is still performing human sacrifice to this very day.

Oh, this space is taken? Excuse me....

Oh, this space is taken? Excuse me….

Despite its horror movie trappings, Sacrifice is mainly a thriller. It’s a boarder line police procedural, with the main character a spunky doctor who refuses to just let things lie by conducting her own investigation. At times this feels a little silly–when it becomes clear that she might be facing a conspiracy, instead of wisely backing off, Tora just keeps plowing right on, making one wonder if she has a death wish, especially after she’s been threatened by a shadowy figure at the hospital where she works. The smart move would be to leave the island and call the police on the mainland.

But if she did that, then the movie would have been only forty five minutes long. Sacrifice isn’t very cinematic–at least not in the sense that the story is told visually, but verbally, in exposition-heavy conversation scenes. At times it feels more like a TV movie, almost like an offering that would be seen on the Lifetime Channel. Still, Radha Mitchell manages to outshine the material here; her performance is steadfast and sympathetic, and she kept me glued to the screen, caring about what will happen to her next, for all of the film’s running time. If you’re looking for a mild but fun thriller with a strong female lead, you can’t go wrong with this. –SF

The Darkness — a review

Hello, Mr. Ghost? We're coming upstairs, so please don't scare us, m'kay?

Hello, Mr. Ghost? We’re coming upstairs, so please don’t scare us, m’kay?

Kevin Bacon stars in The Darkness, a horror movie about a family being haunted by evil spirits that accompany their young son home from a trip to the Grand Canyon. Young Michael Taylor (well played by David Mazouz, from TV’s Gotham) is autistic. Coming across a group of stones that he finds in a cave (after accidentally falling in there through the ceiling) Michael brings the stones back home with him, keeping their presence a secret from his family, which consists of dad Peter (Bacon), mom Bronny (Radha Mitchell) and big sister Stephanie (Lucy Fry). Things turn weird when Bronny notices a bad smell, along with the water facets being left on all the time.

But the weirdness get creepier when Bronny feels a strange presence in the house in the form of a shadowy figure that flits out of view the moment she sees it. This leads her to wonder if the harmless imaginary friend that Michael has brought back with him from the Grand Canyon might not be so harmless after all. Directed by Greg McLean, who gave us the phenomenal serial killer movie Wolf Creek, the not so great Wolf Creek 2, and the superb killer alligator movie Rogue (which also starred Mitchell; she’s appearing in her second film directed by McLean) The Darkness lacks the sheer horrific intensity of his previous films just by the fact that it’s rated PG-13.

Eww...really? Seriously? We've got to have a ghost who doesn't wash his hands....

Eww…really? Seriously? We’ve got to have a ghost who doesn’t wash his hands….

So there’s no gory violence here; no unflinching shots of heads being blown off, or people being tortured to death, and that’s fine. I’m actually a big fan of the recent trend of “mild” horror movies like Insidious, and the Conjuring films. These movies focus more on being scary instead of grossing people out, which forces the filmmakers to be more innovative and creative. But the problem with The Darkness is that it might be a little too mild. It’s not the lack of gore that bothers me, but the ’by-the-numbers’ feeling of the story, which feels a lot like a warmed-over Poltergeist plot. If you’re a big horror movie fan, then this movie will feel very familiar to you because it uses every trope used in films like Poltergeist and its sequels (as well as the remake).

However, the combination of McLean, along with a solid cast, has lead to the creation of a very interesting and sympathetic group of characters. These aren’t your basic horror movie cardboard cut outs; no, instead McLean chose to populate his movie with a dysfunctional family, with each member struggling with an affliction of their own, in addition to fighting the supernatural force. This made the movie worth watching for me, because I was made to genuinely care for the characters. And even if horror movie fans might be bored with seeing the same basic plot being replayed here, for those of you casual horror fans looking for a good, non-gory horror film for the family to watch (in the same vein as Insidious or The Conjuring), you can’t go wrong with peering into The Darkness. –SF